Saturday, September 08, 2007

book review: One Little Secret by Allison Bottke

Title: One Little Secret
Author: Allison Bottke
Publisher: Bethany House
ISBN: 0764200585
Genre: Contemporary fiction,

The summer is not shaping up as Ursula Rhoades had planned. With her voice students all on break and the kids both away from home doing their own young-adult thing, she and Don were supposed to be spending the months together celebrating a landmark anniversary. Instead he's been assigned a high profile case in New York and Ursula finds herself rattling around alone in her posh Bel Air home.

But not for long. Her voice, as she stands in for her musician son's regular singer in his last gig before leaving for school, captivates current rock star and heart-throb Nik Preven. He's ready to cut a CD in a different style, even though Nik is not sure how his own famous singer father will look on that, seeing as how he's claimed that music as his territory. Even so, Nik has his agent contact Ursula.

One Little Secret, a first novel by Allison Bottke (originator of the God Allows U-Turns books), is all about Ursula's summer of unintentional deceit, as she works, albeit sneakily, with Nik on this project — because she can't seem to find the perfect time to tell her husband. He always seems rushed and preoccupied when she calls, or in the middle of some important meeting. Is he having an affair?

The story in this mid-life chick lit book is mostly lived through Ursula (though not told in first person). We also experience a few scenes through Nik and his agent Arnie. I found the characters generally interesting and well-developed. The all-about-me Cristoff character (Nik's dad) is a great caricature of the aging Hollywood personality.

The opulent and star-studded Hollywood setting seemed authentic. The plot kept me interested in its rollicking midlife-fantasy-come-true way. Themes of marriage, family, relationships, how faith can be lived out in a variety of settings and the possibility that dreams can come true were tackled in a show, not tell, way. However I took issue with the book on two counts.

Ursula, despite her weaknesses, shows lots of admirable qualities and is unapologetic and outspoken about her Christian faith. So I was surprised at her, and the book's mostly uncritical endorsement of the Hollywood entertainment scene and general buy-in to opulence and high living (considering the mostly clashing world views represented by the Bible versus idol-obsessed tinseltown).

Bottke's stance, especially toward being enamored with stuff, is fleshed out in an aspect of her writing style as from beginning to end she name-drops the designer clothes, shoes, furniture that Ursula wears or sees (Vera Wang and Vivienne Westwood dresses, Coco Chanel pumps, Charles Eames lounge chairs, a Rodolfi Dordoni sofa, Belenciaze Meteorite sandals, a Scotty Cameron golf club etc.). I, not being familiar with these things, can only assume they were chosen for their snob value. It all had the effect of making Ursula seem somewhat pretentious and shallow.

On the other hand, maybe I'm being too hard on One Little Secret. Maybe my brand of Christianity is too literal and straight-laced (I was, after all, brought up Mennonite). And maybe most people read books like this for the experience of vicariously living life as they dream of it. Though Hollywood stardom and a home filled with designer furniture and clothes are not my fantasy, if that or something like it are yours, you'll love this book which is, in the end, an entertaining, easy-to-read tale. And its optimistic, anything-can-happen tone just might spark in you the resolve to make some of your own dreams come true.


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